Helping firms to understand India should opportunity come knocking
INDIA is a land of opportunity with an economy that is approaching a value of two trillion dollars and a high growth rate.
The government of the world's largest democracy is pumping billions into infrastructure, healthcare, education.
By 2020, the nation will have the largest working-age population in the world, the kind of manpower that will help sustain economic growth for a generation.
Firms in Derby appear to be clued up as to the opportunities associated with the Indian sub-continent.
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Sudipto Sen, head of trade and investment at UKTI India, originally intended to spend a day in Derby meeting businesses.
Arriving from Kolkata, also known as Calcutta, Mr Sen was welcomed by temperatures hovering around the 5C mark.
Back home, he had been enjoying 33C heat.
Based at the British Deputy High Commission, he is responsible for helping UK companies tap into markets in 12 states in eastern and north-eastern India.
The population of this area is approximately 400 million and the Indian government is trying to improve the quality of life and help maintain high levels of growth.
Derby businesses have the potential to be part of this economic expansion and demand for help and guidance was such that Mr Sen had to prolong his stay in the city.
Companies seeking additional information included those involved in the mining industry, healthcare, engineering and food and drink.
Mr Sen said: "I am here to help bring down the uncertainty about approaching business opportunities in India and we have seen an interesting mix of businesses in Derby.
"We are here to help those that want to work in India for the first time as well as those who have many years of experience and want to grow their market share."
Since 2007, the Indian economy has posted growth figures of between 8% and 9% although this year that is dipping between 5% and 6%.
"A lot of the opportunities are driven by the growing population," said Mr Sen.
"Education and skills training is necessary for intensive manufacturing industries. The nation is looking to train 500 million people by 2020 to produce a competitive labour force."
More people means more strain on roads, rail, housing and amenities, issues that the Indian government has decided to tackle with a five-year plan to spend a trillion dollars.
Mr Sen said: "There are large projects for which Indian companies may need partners to offer consultancy and large-scale training programmes for employees, personal protective equipment and health and safety expertise."
Mr Sen is a mechanical engineer by training and, having been involved in a number of large-scale international projects and studied for an MBA in finance, he was taken on by UKTI in order to cement trade links between the UK and India.
He has responsibility for general engineering on his patch – the automotive and aerospace industries have their own teams.
He said: "Engineering includes a large number of different sectors, including mining and metallurgy to process engineering and machine tooling and robotics.
"20 or 30 years ago, manufacturing companies in India had less ambition and used to invest in small projects. There were few manufacturing facilities of global size so economies of scale were difficult to achieve.
"Now they are moving much faster, working with technology-solutions partners to drive growth."
A number of global manufacturers are setting up operations in India and it is anticipated that their suppliers are likely to follow suit and enter into joint projects.
A lot of the manufacturing in India is very energy-intensive and there is a large amount of investment in the power sector.
More than half of India's power is generated by coal-fired power stations.
It is therefore unsurprising that a couple of the companies that Mr Sen has seen during his visit to the city have been in the mining industry.
The word "opportunity" occurs regularly in his conversation. Mirroring the vibrancy and energy of the Indian economy, he speaks quickly and fluently with statistics at his fingertips.
However, he recognises that entry to the Indian market is not easy.
Mr Sen said: "There are 28 states in India and it is large and diverse so it is difficult to move from one patch to another so it is difficult to have a pan-Indian presence.
"From a UK company's perspective, it is important to be sure which area to look at, to understand the market forces at work there and research the competition.
"Anyone looking to start an Indian operation in three years' time needs to start thinking about planning ahead because it takes time to work out the best strategy."
Indian firms are also looking towards the UK to set up shop. In recent years, the software industry has been one sector.
Mr Sen said: "A lot of Indian software companies had links to the US but that market for them has not been as successful in recent years so they have been looking at other English-speaking markets and the UK has benefited.
"They see the UK as a gateway to Europe and having a London address on a business card is very desirable.
"These are technology-intensive companies looking for markets for their innovations around the world because they were born global – designed to trade across the world from the beginning."
Naturally, given his role, Mr Sen argues that the eastern and north-eastern India represents a prime target for UK firms.
"The area is uniquely placed as it shares international boundaries with Nepal, China, Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh," he said. "There is a lot of untapped potential in these markets and trade agreements in place mean that having business interests in eastern India gives companies access to more opportunities."
The operative word in the business lexicon of India is "opportunity" and, if Mr Sen has got his message across in the right way to the right people, a handful of Derby firms could be ready should it knock.